When travelling to Phuket, health issues needn’t be a concern; Thailand is a relatively safe country. That said, the levels of hygiene in some parts are quite low and there are some local hazards to be aware of. With so much water about, especially in the rainy season, water-borne disease and viruses can be a problem. Although Thai people in general are typically less fussed or responsible about health precautions, the tourist infrastructure is well developed to meet Western standards and expectations for health, particularly in Phuket.
In Thailand, especially Phuket, health care is of a high standard and hospitals here are very well managed and the staff thoroughly competent. Few visitors become critically ill while on holiday here, but the unfamiliar environment can create a few uncomfortable reactions. The following guide on Phuket health will help you take the necessary precautions.
If you do have to visit a hospital, be aware that they charge considerably more than public ones, overcharging on imported medicines on the assumption that you’re covered by travel insurance. Often you can get an equally professional service at decent government hospitals, who are more ethical.
For more information on medical services and hospitals, please see our directory page here.
Guide to Disease, Infection and Viruses
Avian Influenza (Bird Flu): This is no longer considered a health risk and no new cases have been reported in Thailand in several years.
Cholera: Phuket has occasionally had outbreaks of cholera, but mostly in poorer communities such as construction camps, where hygiene is not all it should be. These are usually localised and are quickly brought under control. The big danger from cholera is dehydration, so if you suffer from severe diarrhoea, get medical help immediately.
Drinking Water: The tap water in both Patong and Phuket City is deemed drinkable, though it’s probably prudent to drink bottled water to be on the safe side. Ice and water available, free, at most restaurants are usually safe to drink, as water filtration systems are commonly used.
Dehydration: Drinking plenty of water is essential in Phuket’s tropical heat and humidity to avoid dehydration, especially if you’re out sunbathing or doing some physical activity. The common symptoms are fever, fatigue, dry mouth and breathing difficulty – see a doctor or take some rehydration salts/drinks for relief. A brand called ‘O-lyte’ is widely available in sachets in convenience stores.
Dengue Fever: is spread through mosquito bites, especially during the rainy season of May-October, though it’s rare for foreign visitors to contract this disease. Symptoms of dengue include severe headache, muscle and joint pain, nausea and skin rashes; if it develops into dengue haemorrhagic fever, it can be fatal. There are no medical prophylactics available so the best prevention is to wear mosquito repellent, long-sleeved shirts and long trousers. The carrier mosquito favours still water, such as pot plant saucers, so keep an eye out for these near your room and empty the water from them.
Diarrhoea: Visitors may suffer a day or two of diarrhoea as they adjust, especially if they’ve sampled some of the local spicy fare. Avoid eating in shops that appear unhygienic (those that have passed government inspections will display a ‘Clean Food, Good Taste’ sign), drink only filtered or bottled water, and try not to overdo it on the chilli if your stomach’s not accustomed to spicy food. Anti-diarrhoeal medication is widely available. If symptoms persist or are accompanied by vomiting, see a doctor.
Diving Dangers: Diving in the Andaman is a must-do activity, but it’s not without its risks. The most common ailment suffered by divers is ‘the bends’, or decompression sickness, a condition that arises when air bubbles form in the blood due to a rapid decrease in environmental pressure as a result of coming to the surface too fast.
Symptoms and signs – which usually show up within three hours of a dive – include pain in the joints/limbs, rashes, dizziness, paralysis, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue or becoming unconsciousness. Divers with the bends need to get immediate medical help or call Hyperbaric Services Thailand for assistance. The HST Patong office telephone: 076 342 518. Andaman coast 24-hour emergency line: 08 1081 9000 or 076 209 347. There are also hyperbaric chambers at the Vachira government hospital and the private Phuket International and Bangkok Hospitals, all three of which are in Phuket Town.
Hepatitis: There are two main groups of hepatitis, one spread by contaminated food and water and the other by contaminated body fluids. Hepatitis A and E are in the first group and are very common. Hep A causes fever, chills, headaches and fatigue, and is treated through rest and a good diet. Hepatitis B, C and D are more serious, and can result in inflammation of the liver and other complications. There are vaccinations for hepatitis A and B, which should be obtained before travelling to Phuket.
HIV: the grim predictions of 20 years ago for the spread of HIV/AIDS in Thailand did not come true, thanks to a highly successful campaign to encourage safe sex practices. However, it’s estimated that about five percent of the general population carry the disease, and rates are higher among those in the skin trade. As in the rest of the world, condoms are essential equipment in any casual sexual encounter, even if your temporary friend carries a “disease-free” certificate.
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